Couple says they were lured to California for work at a religious retreat; claims they were promised health insurance. Defense verdict. San Bernardino County.
A Michigan couple relocates to California after both husand and wife are offered jobs at religious retreat. They claim they were promised health insurance.
- Case Name: Lysanne Ryan v. Free Methodist Church in Southern California
- Court and Case Number: San Bernardino Superior Court / CIVDS1619816
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, March 22, 2022
- Date Action was Filed: Sunday, November 21, 2021
- Type of Action: Employment, Fraud
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Janet Frangie
- Plaintiffs: Lysanne Ryan, 58
- Defendants: Free Methodist Church in Southern California
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: Defense verdict
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 8 days
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 hours
- Jury Polls: 12-0
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Levy Labor Law by Jeremy Levy, Sherman Oaks.
Abramson Labor Group by Christina Begakis, Los Angeles.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Meyers Fozi & Dwork, LLP by Golnar Fozi and Jeremy Dwork, Carlsbad.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
From the early 1960s until late 2015, defendant FMC owned and operated a religious camp and retreat, commonly referred to as the Oak Glen Christian Conference Center. As the FMC evolved, the need for the camp waned and, in approximately 2011, FMC decided to put the camp up for sale. Jerome Winn, the camp’s on-site director, was tasked with preparing the property for sale. Winn’s role included not only facility upgrades but also streamlining camp expenditures. One of the financial changes made at the camp was to eliminate employer-offered health insurance benefits in exchange for an increase in the wages offered to employees. As of approximately 2011, FMC no longer offered staff health insurance as a benefit of employment.
In 2014, plaintiff Lysanne Ryan and her husband, Richard Anderson, lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, her husband began searching for jobs in California owing to a desire to return to a more pleasant climate and a calling to work for a religious ministry. Ryan investigated potential employment at several religious organizations and camps, and ultimately applied for a position with FMC to work in the Oak Glen camp kitchen. Winn interviewed Anderson on several occasions in late December 2014, and January 2015. In the course of those interviews, Anderson suggested that plaintiff might also be interested in a position at the camp. After receiving her resume, Winn expanded his interviewing to include plaintiff’s desire for an open staff position. Over the course of the interviews in January 2015, it was undisputed at trial that Winn informed plaintiff and her husband that the camp was for sale, and that emails were exchanged indicating plaintiff knew there was no guarantee of continued employment in the event of a sale. Winn also testified that he informed both plaintiff and Anderson that health insurance was not offered by the camp, though plaintiff and Anderson disputed this.
In February 2015, Winn formally offered employment to Anderson and plaintiff. The offer was memorialized in writing and included free on-site housing, a utility allowance, and agreed-upon hourly wages. The offer letter also referenced “eligibility” for a benefit package after completion of a 90-day introductory period. No questions were asked by plaintiff or Anderson about the meaning of this phrase, though they testified they assumed it referred to health insurance. Winn testified at trial that the only benefits offered were in the form of vacation time, and other items outlined in the employee handbook – but not health insurance. Winn testified this was a reference to such items, and that he never promised plaintiff health insurance. Plaintiff and her husband accepted the employment offers and moved from Michigan to California in March 2015. They completed their 90-day introductory periods, after which neither plaintiff nor Anderson received employer-provided health insurance.
At trial, Winn (and other witnesses) testified that no staff at the camp were provided health insurance as a benefit of employment. Plaintiff and her husband testified, however, that they had reached a “secret” side deal with Winn to the contrary. Winn denied any such offer or agreement. When no health insurance was provided, and the camp sold to another entity in December 2015, plaintiff sued FMC under Labor Code section 970, claiming Winn lured her to move to California based on a false promise of health insurance.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That defendant's on-site director had offered health insurance to plaintiff and her husband as part of an employment package.
- Defendant's Contentions:
Based on the testimony and evidence presented at trial, plaintiff and Anderson's decision to move to California was based on their desire to work at the FMC camp. Other than self-serving testimony of plaintiff and her husband, there was no evidence of any promise by Winn or FNC of health insurance, though there were multiple documents outlining promises of housing, wages, and other benefits that were actually provided. Defendant argued that the alleged promise of health insurance was a construct of litigation.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Plaintiff alleged that the lack of health insurance compromised her ability to seek and obtain care for a chronic pulmonary illness. She also alleged damages in the form of mental health conditions she alleged developed as a result.
Plaintiff alleged that she was entitled to medical expenses, past and future. She alleged that she was entitled to housing-related damages as a result of the move from Michigan to California, and to general damages.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Not specified in liability phase of trial.
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Not specified in liability phase of trial.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Not specified in liability phase of trial.
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: Not specified in liability phase of trial.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $3,250,000.
- Defendant §998 Offer: $25,000